There is a disease that seems to slowly infect native speakers of English after settling in Germany. This disease is not always evident to every onlooker, especially since the Germans the infected surround themselves with are immune to the disease itself, just not its symptoms. Infection with this disease is, however, very obvious to any healthy, uninfected native speaker of English who happens to to observe the infected party’s most unusual behaviour.
This is not some kind of sexually transmitted disease.
Nor is it a painful addiction to substandard comedy and entertainment shows like “Schlag den Raab” or “Goodbye Deutschland”. No. I’m talking about something much more serious, much more widespread, and much more damaging to the sufferer and all who come into close contact with them.
I’m talking about Germglish.
That’s right: this silent killer of dreams is known as Germglish.
Germglish sufferers are commonly said to have “gone native”. This is to say, they have spent so much time immersed in the German language, culture, and society, that they have forgotten their origins and any associated skills. These people have gone so much further than learning to mark the days you can go shopping on a Sunday on a dedicated calendar. They have gone so much further than knowing to not even bother queuing for the bus.
Such people no longer know the difference between Currywurst mit Klöße and bangers and mash! Their English has turned into some strange modern English-German mix that you would normally expect to resemble Flemish. But it doesn’t. Not even Flanders’s finest forensic linguists can make sense of the foreign-sounding mess produced by the dreaded Germglish sufferers.
Why am I so concerned about Germglish?
And why am I so disdainful of its sufferers?
I’ll tell you why. Germglish is a disease not every sufferer knows they have. Everyone knows how to prevent getting it, but they can’t be bothered to use protection and figure they’ll just keep going until they hit a problem. I consider this behaviour rather irresponsible – it’s your choice if you don’t want to use protection and get infected with Germglish. But it isn’t fair to spread your disease.
Infected expats often work in high-contact environments. Think educators, translators, even copywriters. Through their work, their infection spreads and mutates. It morphs as it infects young German children, dooming them to never learn proper English (and never learn better, either, because their teacher is “native”). It morphs as it infects websites, now translated into unappealing Germglish no uninfected English speaker wants to read or buy from. It morphs into advertising slogans that confuse more than they compel!
Germglish is a leech on the German economy – a silent infection spread by vampiric Germglish-infected bats in the night, feasting on the blood and ambition of innocent German businesses as they attempt to stretch their virgin wings into new markets… Oh, the innocence lost. The blood spilled. The ambitions broken. It breaks my heart.
What can be done?
- Interview with Rose Newell in issue 14 of translation journal Cultus - February 21, 2022
- Brexit between the lines: copywriting, translating, and fighting Brexit - March 4, 2020
- Bait and switch in the translation profession - January 29, 2019